The 87 year old author, the evergreen Ruskin Bond, is loved by generations. We have been introduced to him from as early as our school days. The stories by Ruskin Bond are lucid, vivid and witty. With a career of almost 70 years, he has gifted us almost 500 short stories, novels and essays. He has received some of India’s most prestigious awards, like, the Sahitya Akademy Award in 1992, Padma Shri in 1999 and Padma Bhushan in 2014.
On the 19th of May, 1934, Ruskin Bond was born in Kasauli, Punjab, India. He was sent to England after schooling. However, he longed to come back to India even though he had an English origin. The stories by Ruskin Bond clearly portrays his love for India and Indian readers.
Out of the plethora of choices, I have made the list of my favourite books and stories by Ruskin Bond.
The Room on the Roof
Published in 1956, ‘The Room on the Roof’, is the first novel written by Ruskin Bond. At only seventeen years of age, he came up with a novel with a lot of sensitivity and tenderness. The novel earned John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957. It is a story of friendship and love. The book has been republished innumerable times and extracts from the book have been used in numerous compilations.
The novel is about an orphaned 17 year old Anglo Indian boy named Rusty who lived in the European Colony of Dehr with his guardian, Mr Harrison. Mr Harrison disliked Indians and wanted Rusty’s upbringing as a pure Englishman. Rusty wanted to break free from the claustrophobic, forced upon discipline. He was attracted to the colourful chaotic Indian bazaar life. This is how Ruskin Bond brings in the anti-racist and anti-colonial concept subtly into the novel. Speaking of Indian Bazaar life, you can almost visualise, hear the sounds and smell the surroundings with his vivid descriptions.
Rusty leaves Mr Harrison’s house. He managed to find a job, with the help of an Indian friend, as an English teacher to Kishen, the son of Mr and Mrs Kapoor. He was offered to stay in a room on the roof. Rusty’s world evolves freely in this simple room on the roof. His attachment to nature grows. He is attracted to the beautiful Meena, Kishen’s mother, whose death changes Rusty’s life. Mr Kapoor remarries and Kishen is sent to live with his aunt. Rusty loses the job and the room on the roof. He decides to leave for England. He meets Kishen before leaving. And to his dismay, he finds that Kishen had left his aunt’s house and turned into a thief. He sees his homelessness and a longing for a proper family in Kishen. They become each other’s refuge.
The Blue Umbrella
‘The Blue Umbrella’, is a novella written in 1980. The theme of the story is timeless, speaking of integrity and forgiveness. This was made into a film in 2005 by the director Vishal Bhardwaj casting the eminent actor, Pankaj Kapoor. The movie received National Award for ‘Best Children’s Film’.
The story revolves around an eleven year old mountain girl, Biniya and Ram Bharosa, an old shopkeeper from the same Garhwali village. The readers get lost in the beauty of the Himalayan hamlet. One can almost feel his writing. Biniya trades her leopard claw pendant for a fancy blue umbrella with picnickers from the city. The umbrella earns her a lot of attention from the villagers. Ram is jealous and has an untameable urge to own that frilly umbrella. He makes a few attempts to coax her into giving him the umbrella. He fails and resorts to unfair means to own it.
The villagers on finding that out boycott him. No one buys from his tea shop which makes his condition miserable. Yet, Biniya feels for him. She should not have shown off the umbrella. To some extent, she holds herself responsible for Ram’s greed. She hands the umbrella over to him. Her forgiveness remarkably changes things back to normal for Ram Bharose.
Speaking of movies as adaptations of stories by Ruskin Bond, there are two which I must mention. The novel, ‘A Flight of Pigeons’, was made into the movie, ‘Junoon’, by the famous director Shyam Benegal in 1978. In 2011, Vishal Bhardwaj made the movie, ‘7 Khoon Maaf’, adapted from the short story, ‘Susanna’s Seven Husbands’, casting Priyanka Chopra.
A Book of Simple Living, Brief Notes from the Hills
Published in 2015, this is a simple book with picturesque description. He has recorded many little moments which made his life one of peace and harmony with the self, nature, friends, family and even passers-by. The book of 150 pages is written out of love. Within the simplest of lines lies deep wisdom.
The essays, the notes and the stories by Ruskin Bond calm the soul with their warmth. We literally see and feel the long walks on the winding mountain road, the moon in between the deodar trees, the call of the birds, the bug on the flower tip, the sound of rain on a tin roof and a contented cat sleeping in a shade. These images drain out the toxicity of our urban life and comfort us. I refer to this book again and again, whenever I feel exhausted. It is like a cool breeze on a hot humid day.
Lone Fox Dancing
This book, published in 2017, is the autobiography of Ruskin Bond. It speaks of his childhood, his school days, his youth and the grown-up author that he is today. It’s a journey that the readers traverse with the author. The magic is brewed by his honest, candid words and the 50 photographs from some iconic moments of his life. His life has not always been happy and simple. He had sometimes suffered from loneliness and heartbreaks. He often had to fight bottlenecks. Yet an unexplained innocence is always felt.
We get the feel of rains, the moon, misty mountains, sitting by the windows in his room, birds and animals, flowers and bugs, lost love and ghosts. Well, this book is captivating enough making the readers eager to know more and more about his eventful life. The book ends with a promise. He says, “There are still people who buy words, and I hope I can keep bringing a little sunshine and pleasure into their lives to the end of my days.”
A Face in the Dark and other Hauntings, Collected Stories of the Supernatural
The ghost stories by Ruskin Bond are really spooky. The imageries created by him are eerie enough to give us goosebumps. His ghosts are often friendly. This book, published in 2009, is a compilation of 28 short stories of paranormal nature starting with ‘A Face in the Dark’. All the stories do not leave you frightened; definitely will leave you unsettled, moved and touched lyrically. “Did the incidents really happen?” The ambiguities in the stories often make the readers think the same.
The story, ‘A Face in the Dark’, was first published in 2004. Mr Oliver, an Anglo Indian teacher of a school in Shimla, takes a shortcut through the pine forests from the town market to school in the evening. He happens to find a schoolboy sitting and sobbing with his head tucked between his knees.
On probing into his whereabouts the teacher finds the boy lifting up his face that had no eyes, ears, nose or mouth. Horrified he begins to hurry towards the school where he runs into a watchman with a lantern. On telling the watchman about the boy, the watchman reveals his face which is similar to that of the boy in the forest. The eerie elements used by Ruskin Bond conjures the mystery. The sound of the leaves, the cry of the owl, the batteries of the torch running down, the flickering torchlight, silent sobbing and a lantern are the magic potions that make a spine chilling climax of such a short and simple story.
A versatile writer and travel freak, discovering the world in her own casual way. Loves to immerse into the core of Mother Nature and extract her inherent beauty.